Sunday, December 26, 2010

One really great thing about 2010

It's easy to focus on the bad stuff. My father and sister died in January. Deepwater Horizon disaster. Utter failure of "Middle East Peace Process." Republicans capture control of U.S. House of Representatives. Ongoing financial crisis that sucks money from poor and middle class people and deposits these funds into the pockets of the ultra-rich. And so on....

Yet here's one really excellent development that I noticed in 2010:

Food product manufacturers are now promoting (some of) their products as follows:

"Contains no high fructose corn syrup!"

And I think that is an incredibly positive development. It means that there is a growing awareness among Americans about the dangers of stuffing our bodies with manufactured, intensified, addictive sweeteners.

If enough people "just say no" to HFCS, then the demand for corn for sweeteners will go down, which will leave more corn available for consumption by human beings (major deal for Mexicans, for example, who saw the cost of corn tortillas, their staple, skyrocket). 

And over time it could reduce the power of the corn/ethanol lobby, which results in the distortion of our agricultural system and energy industry, while doing little or nothing to to slow down climate change.

So here's a resolution I suggest you consider for 2011:

Consume no high fructose corn syrup. 

Don't buy products that contain high fructose corn syrup. Tell your grocer that you don't want products with HFCS. Better yet, don't buy food products. Buy whole food, cook it yourself.

We will, as a nation, become healthier and lighter.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hanging out with my pal, Dylan

A couple days ago, one of my best buddies, Dylan, came over for a visit. Dylan is 2 and a half years old and one of the most delightful human beings I've ever met. Takes a real joy in life and the people around him, is intensely curious (especially about keys, locks, doors, cell phones....) and, well, he likes me a lot. What more can you ask for?

So he spent a few hours with us on Monday, 20 December. We have a big (fake) Christmas tree in the living room, full of lights and ornaments and, under the tree, wrapped presents. Dylan made a bee line for the tree and started to unwrap one of Chris's presents.

"No, Dylan, you can't unwrap that. It's not for you!"

He very politely set that box down and picked up another. "No, Dylan..."

Sadly, we had no wrapped present under the tree for Dylan. So we told him: "We'll take you to the mall, buy you a present, bring it home and wrap it. Then you can open it. OK?"

"OK," said Dylan. Big surprise!

But a moment later, he remembered how much he liked to use our big, heavy, Royal canister vacuum cleaner. So he dragged that out of the closet and spent the next twenty minutes attaching various tips to the hose, cleaning the floor, me, himself...and then off we went to the basement to pull suitcases out of the closet under the stairs.

Veva warned me that if we didn't take Dylan to the mall, he would have a fit later on when it was time to go home - and suddenly memories of present and mall would come flooding back. So I explained the situation to Dylan:

"We can take you to the mall and get a present or we can stay here and play. But if we stay, we won't be able to go to the mall later. Which do you want to do?"

"Stay." Cool.

Then a bit later, Dylan made his way back to the Christmas tree and tried once again to unwrap Chris's present. So I made a new offer: "Let's go down to the basement, and you can pick out any toy you want, and we'll wrap it up, put it under the tree, and then you can open that."


So down we went, I opened the cabinet full of board games and other various toy-like objects. Most held no appeal for Dylan, but finally he came across an animal dominoes set that he liked.

I wrapped it, but a bow on it, wrote his name on it. I put it under the tree. Dylan tried to open Chris's present again (big box), but I pointed to the one that he could now open. He did, very excitedly. Oohs and aahs filled the air. We sat down on the floor and played with the small pieces of wood covered with ducks and ladybugs and cats and dogs and so on.

After a while, Dylan: "Wrap it!" So I wrapped it up again, stuck the bow back on, put it under the tree. After a few minutes, he pulled it out unwrapped it with oohs and aahs, and re-acquainted himself with the game.

Then it was time to go home, so I secured the various ripped edges of the paper with more tape - again, it was wrapped! And brought it to his home and his own tree. Two more times that night, with his dad (Matthew) watching, Dylan ripped open his present and showed it with pride and delight to Matthew.

What a funny boy.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Release 1.8 of PL/SQL Challenge in Production

We just upgraded PL/SQL Challenge to release 1.8, which includes these significant new features and changes:

* Remember Me: a long-requested enhancement, you can check the "Remember me" box before you login. We will then automatically log you in to the PL/SQL Challenge on subsequent visits to the website. If you do not visit the site for seven days, you will be prompted to login again.

* Public Profile: you can now record much more information about yourself and your career as a PL/SQL developer. This information is then made available on a public player profile page - but only if you explicitly approve the publication of that content. All player names on the site are hyperlinked to this page. We also provide you with a public URL so that this profile can be accessed from outside of the PL/SQL Challenge website (such as from your blog).

* Streamlined "Take the Quiz" process: You no longer have to scroll down through assumptions and advice. You can choose to view the information or simply press the Play Now button to get right to the quiz.

* Post-Quiz Survey and Player Notes: after you take the quiz, we now invite you to provide us with feedback on the quality of the quiz. You can also record notes regarding that quiz for future reference. The notes will appear on the Past Quiz page. You can also take the survey at any time after you take the quiz.

* Submit Your Own Quiz Idea: you can now submit your own idea for a quiz directly from the website, both from the "Submit Quiz Idea" on the home page and from several other places on the site as well. If your quiz is accepted, your name will be posted the day the quiz is taken. Get creative and share your expertise with us and players from around the world!

* Reorganization of Rules and Assumptions: the Rules page is gone, long live the Rules page! Most of the content of that page is now available in the FAQ. In addition, rules, assumptions and advice for the quiz is provided on the Take the Quiz page.

I am most excited about the ability to create and publish a player profile.Several players have already reported that their record on the PL/SQL Challenge has helped them get new jobs or get certified in PL/SQL. I hope to see lots more of that happening/ The profile provides a way for the PL/SQL Challenge to help you promote your accomplishments - so fill up your profile!

I am very pleased with how the PL/SQL Challenge website is progressing. Eli is doing a fantastic job as an APEX developer, and also picking up more and more PL/SQL skills along the way. Paul of Apex Evangelists continues to play a crucial, albeit part-time role in handling the more complex requirements for the site.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Fanastic news! I do NOT qualify for AA Executive Platinum!

Check this out:

American Airlines just notified me that, sad to say, I will not be qualifying for the Executive Platinum status for 2011. Or is it? (sad, that is)

No, it is wonderful news!

As some of you might know, I have recently declared an end to my era of endless travel (and being away from home). Starting in 2011, I will travel only when absolutely necessary.

I also worked hard in the latter half of 2010 to slow down my travel - and it shows. No more Executive Platinum for me. No more endless free upgrades, no more first class lounge access when I fly internationally. Wait a minute, that doesn't sound very good at all. :-)

Well, I will likely still be Platinum next year and I can never get "worse" status than Gold, since I hit 1,000,000 miles. Whew. I will still feel a little bit special when I travel on American.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Winners of PL/SQL Challenge Q3 Playoff Just Announced

On 29 November, we held the long-delayed championship playoff for Q3 2010. A total of 62 players participated. Congratulations to our top-three ranked players:

1st Place: Niels Hecker of Germany, wins US$1000.
2nd Place: Peter Schmidt of Germany, wins US$500.
3rd Place: Elic of Belarus, wins Complete set of O'Reilly Media Oracle eBooks.

Players ranked 4 through 10 each win their choice an O'Reilly ebook. All players will receive a certificate of participation. Full details on all player rankings here.

Yes, that's right! Just for knowing PL/SQL well, playing the quiz each day, and then performing well in the playoff, Niels wins US$1000 and Peter wins US$500! Not bad for "just" being expert at the Oracle PL/SQL language, right? In fact, Niels won second place in the Q2 playoff, so he has won US$1500 this year!

Having said that, the 1200+ developers who play each day do so mostly to deepen and test their knowledge of PL/SQL; the prizes are of secondary importance. And, even better, one player has reported getting their new consulting job at least in part because of their PL/SQL Challenge ranking!

If you are not playing the PL/SQL Challenge (and you are an Oracle technologist), I suggest you head over to the PL/SQL Challenge website, register, and start taking that daily quiz. Who knows where it might take you?

Cheers, Steven

Celebrating a wedding anniversary at home

What a concept!

Yesterday was the 27th anniversary of my marriage to Veva Silva. Best thing that ever happened to me (well, meeting and falling in love with Veva as the best thing - the marriage was a very nice "added benefit").

For the past several years, I have found myself (gee, how did that happen?) in Birmingham UK on the date of our anniversary, since that is when the UKOUG holds its annual conference.

Of course, I didn't have to go to that conference. And, really, I shouldn't have gone away on wedding anniversary. And yet, that is what I did.

Well, no more. With the end of the traveling phase of my life, I skipped UKOUG (sorry, friends!) and stayed home. Which resulted in a really fine dinner with Veva, my sons Eli and Chris, and Chris's wife, Lauren.

We supped at Demera, an Ethiopian restaurant on the northside of Chicago. I ate too much, as I always do at Ethiopian restaurants, and I greatly enjoyed the company of my family - most of all, my wife of 27 years.

Why didn't I think of this before? :-)

Friday, November 26, 2010

The End of My Traveling Era

I returned a few days ago from Nuremberg, where I presented my Coding Therapy for Software Developers keynote to several hundred Oracle technologist at DOAG's annual conference. I thought it went quite well; the audience laughed at all my jokes, save one.

The highlight of this trip, however,was the fact that it was my last trip of the year and marks the end of an era in my life, the "traveling era." For too many years, I have been traveling far too much. It's been great for my frequent flyer account and for getting free upgrades. American Airlines has also benefited.

No more.

From this moment forward, I will only travel for professional reasons if it is absolutely required. I will still present at a small number of key Oracle conferences, but other than that, my plan is to stay home. There are two main reasons for this. First, I am simply tired of being on the road - and away from my family. It takes a toll in several different ways, and I find that toll to be unacceptable these days. Second, my son, Eli, is learning how to be an APEX developer and I need to be here to support him, train him, mentor him.

There are certainly aspects of travel that I will miss. It has truly been an honor to meet with developers from around the world, hear about how you are using PL/SQL, learn from you, and be reminded of how much my writings and presentations have helped others. I have enjoyed greatly seeing so many parts of the world and the fantastic art that resides in the countless museums and galleries I have visited. And then there are the dear friends I have made in the Netherlands, Brussels, the UK, Singapore, Australia, Portugal, Germany and other places.

So am I going to just "disappear"? Not at all! While I will not be visiting in physical form, I plan to become much more visible online.

One big advantage of staying home is that I can concentrate more thoroughly on transferring my knowledge of PL/SQL into online, accessible, search-able and very entertaining formats. The PL/SQL Challenge is just the first manifestation of this Internet-delivered expertise. You will be seeing much more in 2011.

And if for some reason you have not yet started playing the daily quiz at the PL/SQL Challenge, please do so! You will learn a lot about PL/SQL, you might win some fine prizes, and - most important of all - you will help me make a success of this key project in my life.

I hope that you all have very happy and relaxing holidays.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Award for Least Obvious Idea

I am in Nuremberg for the German Oracle User Group conference (DOAG). Will be presenting my keynote, Coding Therapy, in a few hours.

Read the International Herald Tribune over breakfast and came across "An upgrade or a trip in space? It's a tough call."

First paragraph reads: "In the rarified realm of airline frequent-flier perks, elite status can bring cushy upgrades, airport lounge access, priority boarding and any number of concierge and customer service benefits. But on Wednesday, the Dutch airline KLM set a new goal for road warriors to aim for: free space flight."

Wow. I must admit, this was not on the top of my mind. But as Andrew Nelson, XCOR's chief operating officer says later in the article: "It is only logical that, in the future, airlines are going to want to take advantage of services like these to enhance their frequent-flier programs."

Really? Is that "logical"? Enhance your frequent-flier program by offering trips in space that, today, cost roughly $95,000 for four minutes of weightlessness. Richard Branson's venture, Virgin Galactic (is this guy's ego the size of a mountain, or what?), has already reserved nearly 370 seats for its own commercial space flights - requiring a 10% deposit of $20,000 to reserve that seat.

It's the New Logic.

The logic of "I have so much money, I don't know what else to do with it."

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Palo Suite Uses My Parse Package

Whenever I present on PL/SQL, I make sure to let everyone know they can download all of my training materials and all the supporting code from PL/SQL Obsession. I urge developers to use my code, rather than "reinvent the wheel" and point them to my file, which contains demonstrates of PL/SQL features, performance analysis scripts and some reusable code.

I received an email from Pepijn Slappendel, who told me: "I have created a PL/SQL utility which can be used to query data from Palo-cubes. Palo is an open-source cube-based BI Solution. The utility uses your generic parse package, which makes things very easy!"

Ah, music to my ears! I so dearly love to hear that my code is being used. Thahks, Pepijn, for both using the parse package (located in the parse.pkg file) and letting me know about it.

For more information on Pepijn's project: "The Palo Suite is a SaaS enabled Open-Source BI Suite for Performance Management including Planning, Analysis, Reporting and ETL. The suite includes an in-memory OLAP Server, an Ajax-based online spreadsheet with DynaRanges and a web-based ETL-Tool."

Finally, if anyone else "out there" has used my code, please do let me know. I will be happy to feature it on my blog.

Cheers, Steven

Saturday, November 06, 2010

How I Managed to Feel Guilty While Recycling

I was raised a good, Jewish boy, so generally I have no trouble manufacturing a feeling of guilt and "should have" and so on.

But I was stunned this morning to realize that I actually felt guilty while recycling my acumulated mounds of plastic, metal and so on.

To achieve such an extreme, it in the great City of Chicago, led by that great mayor, Richard M. Daley.

Because in Chicago, we have a totally ridiculous recycling program, put in place by that great mayor, Richard M. Daley, in which everything (glass, metal, paper, plastic) is thrown together into a big pile, collected from all over the city into an even bigger (much bigger) pile. Then we hire people to separate out the various types of recyclables.

It doesn't take a genius to imagine the results: broken glass, mixed in with soggy, falling-apart paper, low percentage yield of recyclables from the mess....

I believe Daley has finally, officially given up on the so-called blue bag program. Who knows when this bankrupt city, located in an incredibly bankrupt state, situated in an entirely bankrupt nation, will ever get around to putting a sensible policy in place.

In the meantime, I will either feel guilty for participating in this sham of a recycling program, or seek alternatives that make more sense.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I voted yesterday and here's why

I waited until the very last moment to vote (I left yesterday for Brussels, so I will not be in Chicago on election day).

I had been thinking that I wouldn't bother voting this time around. I am quite disgusted generally with the surreal state of affairs (many people seemingly ready to vote for the greedy, corrupt Republicans who spent the eight years with "W" destroying our nation and driving millions of citizens to poverty, misery and/or death). But I am also very disappointed with Barack Obama. I realize he could not perform miracles, but the compromises he made that led to the awful health care "reform", the $708 billion "defense" budget he proposed, the ridiculous waffling on "don't ask, don't tell", the continued aggressive attack on progressive activists, "illegal" immigrants and marijuana growers, and the steadfast support for "titans of finance" leave me feeling like he sure doesn't represent my interests very well.

And then in Illinois, our current governor is a nice guy, but not very effective. The Democrat running to take Obama's seat in the Senate owned a bank (with his family) that failed and cost taxpayers millions. "My" congresswoman is progressive on everything but Israel, and on that topic she is just awful and treated me like dirt when I confronted her about her "love of Israel."

Sigh...what's a nice, bleeding heart progressive like me to do?

Well, I finally accepted that while I didn't have lots of reasons to vote FOR anyone, I had plenty of reasons to vote against others.

The Republican gubernatorial candidate is a horror on "social" issues like abortion and is completely mealy-mouthed about what he would do to solve our budget problems. The Republican running for Senate is the sort of fellow who lied about his military record in Vietnam and elsewhere. I can't bring myself to vote for a guy who tries to explain away saying he served under fire, got this award or that - when he did no such thing. Disgusting. How you can trust anyone who does that and then won't even own up to it?

So I voted Democratic for the key "big ticket" offices, and went Green on the rest (I could not in the end bring myself to vote for Jan Schakowsky. If she is defeated by a right-wing, Orthodox Jew who baited her for being "soft" on the Palestinians, well, then I say it serves her right).

I have a feeling that the closer we get to election day, the closer the races will become. It's one thing to express disgust with Obama and the Democrats. It's quite another thing to capitulate to the corporations and other super-rich who are trying to buy this election through anonymous attack ads, and let right-wing extremists, nut jobs and just plain ruthless ideologues to dig themselves in deeper.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Check out the beta test for 1.7 of PL/SQL Challenge

PL/SQL Challenge: daily PL/SQL quiz with weekly, monthly and quarterly prizes. If you are a PL/SQL developer and you are not yet playing the quiz, well, you are missing out on a lot of fun and education!

We plan to upgrade the PL/SQL Challenge website to version 1.7 on October 23. This version has many new and wonderful features, including:

* Home page changes: we now show you a random selection of past quizzes that you can visit for a quick PL/SQL refresher, plus a display of players who deserve congratulations for winning an award, high ranking, frequent play, etc.

* Past Quizzes: you can now search through all past quizzes by topic, difficulty or date, and then drill down to see a new, more detailed description of the quiz and your results.

* Interactive Rankings: built on top of the APEX4 Interactive Reports feature, you can now see rankings by player, country, organization and company (for a given period: daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, lifetime). You can build your own custom reports. We believe that many of the requests we have received from players for better rankings information will be satisfied by this feature (for example: if you want to keep track of and rank players in the same company, simply choose one of the Rankings by Player reports and then filter by company!).

* Take the Quiz page: each quiz now includes a "No choices are correct" option at the bottom of the page. You must check at least one of the choices before you can submit your answer.

Before we upgrade on the 23rd, we'd like to get feedback from you on the features, the data points in the rankings reports, etc. So we have set up for beta testing from October 18 to October 22. Please visit and go exploring. Tell us what you think needs change or improvement.

For the beta test, you can log in with your regular email and password. The quizzes are from a previous week; they are not the same as those on the production site. All past quiz activity should be the same as on the production site.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Early bird for OPP conferences ending this week

Just got this reminder from ODTUG regarding the two-day PL/SQL conferences for which I am the technical co-chair...

It's Monday, and most of you are just getting into work, so we will keep this one short and sweet.

Early Bird Registration ends on Friday, October 15 for OPP/APEXposed in both Dallas and Brussels!

In Europe? This is ODTUG's first time holding an SP conference in Brussels, October 27-28. See the agenda, check out the presenters, and sign up today.

In the US? We are headed to Dallas, November 10-11, to show you the best tips, tricks, and techniques for both PL/SQL and Application Express.

Sign up by October 15 and costs are only $550 for members and $600 for non-members.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Marketing absurdities: the Saab survives...

Learned something new today. I thought that Saab was a dead brand, that GM hadn't found anyone to buy it. Not true, and I am happy for all those who are attracted to cars that a long time ago featured the same engines as those found in jet airplanes. Or something like that.

I searched for "Saab future" and found the above link because the Sunday Chicago Tribune featured a full page ad for Saab, which included some truly fantastic marketing-speak.

Check this out:

"The status quo finds no refuge in the coils of Saab DNA...Everything is exactly where it should be, but the results are boldly unexpected...When different is your dancepartner, that's how the music plays. Then again, you already knew that."

Now, I must admit, that I know lots of stuff, but I did not know that "when different is your dancepartner, that's how the music plays."

In fact, I still don't know "that", because I have no idea what "that" is supposed to mean.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

7 October: The day my dad would have been 81

This past Thursday, 7 October, is my father's birthday. Which made it a very melancholy day for my family, since Dad died in January of this year.

I miss hearing his deep, rumbling voice, almost always with the hint of a smile in it. I miss being able to tell him how everyone is doing. I miss, especially, being able to tell him about Eli is now a programmer and thriving as he learns PL/SQL, APEX and more. 

My dad taught himself RPG, and long before that taught himself how to use HP programmable calculators. He would definitely have appreciated Eli's foray into the technology arena.

But I think what I miss most of all is my father's integrity and honesty. 

I gaze upon the world that lurches along in his absence and am truly dismayed at the fundamental dishonesty and complete lack of shame exhibited by those who are supposed to be the leaders of our grand society. 

Instead, they blackmail us to rescue them from their own greed and mistakes, leaving behind broken homes and families and, indeed, a broken nation.

Ah, but why dwell on the negative? Instead, I will follow Sheldon Feuerstein's example and concentrate my efforts and attention on my family, on those closest and dearest to me, and make sure they are well.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Say Goodbye to Hardcoding - 6 October webinar - join me!

Last week, I did a webinar, sponsored by Quest, for about 45 developers on "Programming with Collections."

On 6 October, I will present one of my all time favorite webinars: Say Goodbye to Hard-Coding in PL/SQL. Hard-coding is something everyone knows about, hates, and keeps on doing anyway. Especially because we tend to think of "hard-coding" as nothing but those literal values.

But hard-coding can appear in many different forms. The webinar explores all those forms, explains why they are hard-codings, and offers solutions to get rid of the hard-coding and be left with a "single point of definition" for values, formulas, etc.

Interested? Get more information and register here.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I am a Quinquaganerian

And proud of it.

Isn't that an amazing word? It's worth playing Scrabble, just to discover words like this one (in the dictionary where I am looking up a word in vain hope that it actually is a word).

So: quinquaganerian:

50 years old, or between the ages of 50 and 60
a person of this age

I am 52 years old and so I am a quinquagenarian.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Announcement of Prize Winners at Oracle Develop / Oracle Open World

The three-day contest at Oracle OpenWorld and Oracle Develop on the PL/SQL Challenge has now ended!

We have analyzed the answers from everyone who played the daily quiz over the last three days and also checked the box indicating they were in San Francisco and could pick up their prizes.

Winners of the Oracle OpenWorld and Oracle Develop prize pool can, in fact, pick up their prizes by visiting the Mason Street Tent Thursday, September 23, anytime between 7:00 am - 4:30 pm to pick up your prizes at the Oracle Technology Network info desk. Steven Feuerstein will be present from noon to 1 PM to congratulate you, sign books, and join you in a celebratory photo - if you so desire. If you do not claim your prize Thursday, September 23 by 4:30 PM it will be forfeit. So much for the fine print. Let's get to the Big News!
Congratulations to everyone who is listed below (note: the names displayed are those chosen by the PL/SQL Challenge player). We hope that you will all continue to play the PL/SQL Challenge each day and tune up your PL/SQL skills and knowledge even further.

Warm regards,
Steven Feuerstein
First Place

Tim Lindemulder placed first with a score of 1171 answering 3 quizzes in 238 seconds and wins:  an Amazon Kindle.

Second Place

Rob van Wijk placed second with a score of 1154 answering 3 quizzes in 285 seconds and wins:  a $100 gift card.

Winners of  O'Reilly Media Oracle PL/SQL bundle: Oracle PL/SQL Programming 5th edition, Oracle PL/SQL Best Practices 2nd edition, Oracle PL/SQL Pocket Reference, 4th edition

Bjoern Rost placed 3 with a score of 1110 answering 3 quizzes in 419 seconds

poelger placed 4 with a score of 1104 answering 3 quizzes in 440 seconds

Patrick Wolf placed 5 with a score of 1098 answering 3 quizzes in 459 seconds

John W. Schultz placed 6 with a score of 1095 answering 3 quizzes in 286 seconds

Justin Cave placed 7 with a score of 1084 answering 3 quizzes in 498 seconds

Winners of Oracle PL/SQL Programming 5th edition

Ralf Koelling placed 8 with a score of 1073 answering 3 quizzes in 532 seconds

Greg Belliveau placed 9 with a score of 1061 answering 3 quizzes in 566 seconds

Iloon Ellen placed 10 with a score of 1031 answering 3 quizzes in 476 seconds

Alison placed 11 with a score of 940 answering 3 quizzes in 376 seconds

Jonathan Hart placed 12 with a score of 877 answering 2 quizzes in 368 seconds and wins

Winners of $50 giftcard

John Jeunnette placed 13 with a score of 797 answering 3 quizzes in 462 seconds

shra1 placed 14 with a score of 766 answering 2 quizzes in 702 seconds

Winners of your choice of O'Reilly Media Oracle PL/SQL bundle: Oracle PL/SQL Programming 5th edition, Oracle PL/SQL Best Practices 2nd edition, Oracle PL/SQL Pocket Reference, 4th edition (some books may not be available)

Craig Robinson placed 15 with a score of 725 answering 3 quizzes in 496 seconds

Nuno Ornelas placed 16 with a score of 716 answering 3 quizzes in 520 seconds

Fuad Arshad placed 17 with a score of 714 answering 3 quizzes in 155 seconds

Roel Hartman placed 18 with a score of 607 answering 3 quizzes in 27033 seconds

steve aho placed 19 with a score of 601 answering 3 quizzes in 697 seconds

Rob Dawson placed 20 with a score of 436 answering 2 quizzes in 193 seconds

phowells placed 21 with a score of 342 answering 2 quizzes in 295 seconds

Texas placed 22 with a score of 302 answering 2 quizzes in 595 seconds

KevinZhang placed 23 with a score of 268 answering 2 quizzes in 698 seconds

TigerFan placed 24 with a score of 237 answering 2 quizzes in 1117 seconds

Coleman Leviter placed 25 with a score of 219 answering 2 quizzes in 287 seconds

Ara placed 26 with a score of 217 answering 1 quizzes in 99 seconds

Eric Tegenfeldt placed 27 with a score of 215 answering 1 quizzes in 104 seconds

John Flack placed 28 with a score of 207 answering 1 quizzes in 128 seconds

Lori  Townsend placed 29 with a score of 204 answering 2 quizzes in 138 seconds

Gonzalo  Segarra placed 30 with a score of 155 answering 1 quizzes in 104 seconds

PeaellSlashSeaquell placed 31 with a score of 148 answering 1 quizzes in 307 seconds

Dennis Ruane placed 32 with a score of 143 answering 1 quizzes in 142 seconds

C. Scyphers placed 33 with a score of 140 answering 2 quizzes in 1261 seconds

diggitydog placed 34 with a score of 121 answering 1 quizzes in 387 seconds

mnrbradley placed 35 with a score of 40 answering 2 quizzes in 272 seconds

Sunday, September 19, 2010

PL/SQL Challenge Prizes You Can Win During Oracle Open World Week

Here's a recap of all the prizes you can win this week playing the daily quiz. The first table shows what you could win if you are attending Oracle Open World or Oracle Develop. The second table shows the fantastic prizes available to anyone playing around the world.

Good luck to everyone!

For those attending Oracle OpenWorld or Oracle Develop:

Amazon Kindle ebook reader ($260)
$100 giftcard
O'Reilly Media Oracle PL/SQL bundle: Oracle PL/SQL Programming 5th edition, Oracle PL/SQL Best Practices 2nd edition, Oracle PL/SQL Pocket Reference, 4th edition ($120 value)
8 - 12
Oracle PL/SQL Programming 5th edition ($70 value)
$50 giftcard
5 Oracle PL/SQL Programming 5th edition
15 Oracle PL/SQL Best Practices 2nd edition
15 Oracle PL/SQL Pocket Reference, 4th edition

For those not attending Oracle OpenWorld or Oracle Develop:

Complimentary registration to the ODTUG Kaleidoscope 2011 conference, a US$1775 value.
Complimentary registration in your choice of the Oracle PL/SQL Programming/APEXposed conferences, a US$600 value
Complimentary membership in the ODTUG organization, a US$175 value

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Win Many Great Prizes at Special PL/SQL Challenge Competition during Oracle Develop 2010

PL/SQL Challenge (a daily quiz for PL/SQL developers) will be holding a special challenge during the week of Oracle OpenWorld and Oracle Develop. From September 20 through September 22 (with start and end of days determined by UTC time), you take the daily quiz through the PL/SQL Challenge website: We will have two prize pools; one for Oracle OpenWorld and Oracle Develop attendees (with prizes provided by PL/SQL Challenge and O'Reilly Media)and another for non-attendees (playing from anywhere in the world).

If you are attending Oracle OpenWorld or Oracle Develop when you submit your answer, be sure to check the box labeled "I am at Oracle OpenWorld/Oracle Develop and can pick up my prize at the Mason Street Tent."

After the quiz ends on Wednesday, September 22nd, prizes will be awarded both for top ranking (highest scores for the three days of quizzes) and prizes will be raffled off for all those who took at least one quiz (the more you take, the greater your chance of winning).

We will announce the winners no later than midnight in San Francisco, 22nd September, with the list available on the PL/SQL Challenge blog, the Oracle Develop blog, Steven Feuerstein's blog, and on the PL/SQL Challenge website.

Winners of the Oracle OpenWorld and Oracle Develop prize pool then visit the Mason Street Tent Thursday, September 23, anytime between 7:00 am - 4:30 pm to pick up your prizes at the Oracle Technology Network info desk. I will be present from noon to 1 PM to congratulate you, sign books, and join you in a celebratory photo - if you so desire. If you do not claim your prize Thursday, September 23 by 4:30 PM it will be forfeit.

For those not attending Oracle Open World or Oracle Develop, the PL/SQL Challenge celebrates this enormous gathering of Oracle technologists by offering a set of special prizes for the week starting September 20. Instead of the usual two prizes for high rank and participation in that week, you could win any of the following:
Remember: you do not need to attend Oracle OpenWorld or Oracle Develop to participate in this special competition, but if you are in San Francisco, you could win a special, attendee-only prize -so be sure to check that box when you submit your answer!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fantastic PL/SQL Training Conferences: Dallas and Brussels

Since 2005, ODTUG has sponsored annual PL/SQL-specific conferences, which are now organized in conjunction with an APEX conference: OPP and APEXposed.

This year, we will for the first time hold the joint conference in Europe, specifically in Brussels, on October 27-28.

The U.S. conference will be held in Dallas on November 10-11.

The OPP conference offers the best training value on PL/SQL around. Two days, three tracks of presentations (including almost two full days of training by me), expert presenters, including in Dallas the PL/SQL Product Manager, Bryn Llewellyn.

If you are looking for ways to get "trained up" in PL/SQL and also meet and talk with some of the best PL/SQL developers in the world, I urge you attend the OPP-APEXposed conference.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sign up for my Fall 2010 Webinar Trainings!

Looking for a way to strengthen your PL/SQL skills without leaving your cubicle? Then I encourage you to talk to your manager about enrolling in or more of the following Quest-sponsored webinars:

Back by popular demand! Steven Feuerstein, Quest Software’s PL/SQL Evangelist and one of the world’s leading experts in the language, will conduct a third series of webcasts that will put you on the fast track to maximizing your understanding and use of Oracle PL/SQL. Attend this Quest-exclusive series of webcasts delivered by Steven and gain invaluable techniques and insights that you can put to work immediately. You will learn how to make the most of PL/SQL to dramatically improve the quality and performance of your programs. Steven will also answer questions from attendees during a live Q&A session at the end of each webcast. Each webcast lasts approximately two hours.

Session 1: Programming with Collections

Monday, September 27, 2010 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern ($200.00 US)

Collections (array-like structures in PL/SQL) are critical data structures that are used in some of the most important features of PL/SQL. Every PL/SQL developer should have a deep familiarity with collections and the wide range of features that Oracle has implemented for them over the years. This session introduces collections and quickly moves on to detailed explanations of collection methods, how to leverage string indexing in associative arrays, multi-level collections, set-level operations on nested tables and more. The session will run for approximately two hours.

Session 2: Say Goodbye to Hard-Coding in PL/SQL

Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern ($200.00 US)

Everyone knows that hard-coding is a bad idea. Too many developers, however, only think in terms of literal values when they think of hard-coding. There are, unfortunately, many ways that hard-coding manifests itself in our programs. This webinar offers a comprehensive look at all the types of hard-coding that can appear in your programs, from literals to explicit declarations to exposed formulas, and offers specific techniques to get rid of the hard-coding. The result is code that is much easier to read and to maintain. The session will last approximately two hours.

Session 3: Dynamic SQL in Oracle PL/SQL

Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern ($200.00 US)

Dynamic SQL (construction, parsing and execution of SQL statements and PL/SQL blocks at runtime) has become a common and critical element of most modern applications. PL/SQL offers two distinct methods for dynamic SQL: native dynamic SQL (NDS) and DBMS_SQL. This webinar focuses primarily on the capabilities of native dynamic SQL: how to use EXECUTE IMMEDIATE to execute dynamic query, DML, and DDL statements. We will also go beyond the basics and delve into when to use DBMS_SQL (method 4 dynamic SQL), and new Oracle Database 11g features for dynamic SQL (most importantly, interoperability between DBMS_SQL and NDS. The session will last approximately two hours.

Register Now!

Friday, September 03, 2010

Giving thanks to the inventor of 71D

71D - the digits and letter have a beautiful ring to them - because I just [well, over a week now - I just remembered I had not posted this entry!] flew back from Sydney on a massive A380 passenger jet, and I was not able to upgrade to business class.

How is that I, American Airlines Executive Platinum all-around Special Flyer, could not get an upgrade? Because AA handed over all their Australia flights to Qantas and even though my EP status on AA gets me into Qantas First Class Lounges (and that lounge in Sydney is truly fantastic), it does not get me anywhere when it comes to upgrades.

So I had to fly for 15 hours in economy. How about the exit row or bulkhead? Nope, they don't even assign those till day of flight....but somehow my friends at American Airlines were able to reserve seat 71D for me. "So what?" you ask. So...let's visit and see what they have to say about 71D. First, the picture:

Ah...notice the lovely green color on 71D - it is something every seasoned flyer looks for. That means something good, actually positive, is going on in that seat. What could it be?

Class: Economy
Seat Type: Recliner
Power: AC Power
Video: Personal TV
Review: Seat 71D has extra legroom since there is no seat directly in front of it.

Frabjous joy! Extra legroom! AC Power! And they aren't kidding. 71D is an incredible seat. There must have been five FEET of open space between my seat and 70D. And, yes, I could plug in the power cord of my laptop. So what did I do with my lovely seat? Well, let's see, I managed to sleep for perhaps one hour of the 15 hour flight. And probably for another ten hours, I worked on my laptop.

A whole bunch of quizzes for the PL/SQL Challenge, bug fixes for Code Tester V2, blog postings, specifications for this and that....then I decided, what the heck, watch a movie on their fine high def personal video system. So I picked out Iron Man 2, heavily branded with Oracle Corporation silliness.

What a poor excuse for a movie. I actually felt a little embarrassed for Larry Ellison for being in it and, well, me for watching it. What I don't get is how film companies can spend so much money on these productions and still do such a piss-poor job of plot construction and dialogue.

But it did pass the time, and then I was home - not a bad flight at all, all things considered - and all because of the inventor of 71D!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Feedback on idea for comments and tracing from newsletter

In my latest PL/SQL newsletter (if you don't yet receive it, visit and enter your email in the yellow box on the left side of the home page), I passed on a tip I got during a training, namely:

Tech Tip: A New Place for Your Comments?

I just gave a two-day, "Best of Oracle PL/SQL" training to a team of developers in Winona, MN, home of the Sugar Loaf Bluff, which I climbed after the first day of training.

One of the development managers, Jason McClellen of Fastenal, offered the following suggestion when I talked about the importance of application tracing or instrumentation:

Comments are usually added to code as "static" text, visible only when you open up and look at your source code. Instead of hiding away your comments, include them in the calls to your tracing mechanism. That way, whenever tracing is enabled, you not only see values of data being manipulated by the program, you also read information that informs your understanding of that data.

I think this is a fantastic idea, and I plan to start doing this in my own code. In Quest Code Tester for Oracle, I use a variation on the Quest Error Manager to do my tracing, so a trace call (preceded by a comment) might look like this:

Simple datatypes require an initial value. This "value"
includes the assignment operator to simplify template construction.
IF qu_runtime.trace_enabled
    trace (
      'set_placeholders typename'
    , outcome_in.result.attribute.datatype_declare

In the future (in fact, right now - I will "refactor" this code), my tracing will look like this:

IF qu_runtime.trace_enabled
    trace (
    , 'Simple datatypes require an initial value. This "value" '||
        'includes the assignment operator to simplify template construction.'
    trace (
      'set_placeholders typename'
    , outcome_in.result.attribute.datatype_declare

I then asked readers to tell me what they thought. Several people wrote in and I will post this in a reply. Feel encouraged to add your own thoughts.

Monday, August 23, 2010

PL/SQL Challenge players finds doc bug in STANDARD package

The PL/SQL Challenge recently (6 August) offered a quiz on the INSTR function. I showed everyone the header of this function from the STANDARD package in which it is defined:

-- Find nth occurrence of str1 in str2 starting at pos

Jean Xu reported a problem with the comment above the header. It should say "of str2 in str1"! I'd never noticed this, with all the times I've looked at the STANDARD package. I let Bryn Llewellyn, PL/SQL Product Manager, know about this, so hopefully the next release of Oracle will include a correction.

Yet another benefit of playing the PL/SQL Challenge: you can help improve the quality of the PL/SQL language itself!

So if you are not yet one of the more than 2400 developers who have been taking the quiz in the last month, register and start playing today!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

PL/SQL Challenge Live event in Melbourne, Australia

Quest Software and AUSOUG sponsored a PL/SQL Challenge Live quiz at the Insync 2010 conference on 16 August (which took place just 3 hours after I arrived from a very long odyssey from Chicago). This is the second live quiz I have done (the first was at ODTUG's Kaleidoscope conference in June), and it went much smoother than the first, since I built a PL/SQL procedure to automatically compute winners (manual processes really are things to avoid whenever possible!).

Forty-two developers played the quiz and I am pleased to announce that Jeff Kemp, currently ranked #5 in this quarter on the daily quiz, took first place with a score of 37 points out of a possible maximum score of 43. He wins a $100 giftcard from Westfield Mall. Here is list of the top 20 scorers in the competition:

01 Player JEFF KEMP = 37
02 Player STUART WATSON = 34
05 Player BRETT MCBRIDE = 32
06 Player MARIA DE MESA = 32
07 Player KHOI NGUYEN = 32
08 Player IAN CORKHILL = 31
09 Player MARC THOMPSON = 31
10 Player ROHAN MILTON = 31
11 Player SWEE KEONG TAN = 31
12 Player RAY FEIGHERY = 31
14 Player TIM DANIELL = 30
16 Player THOMAS WENDE = 29
17 Player PANKAJ DADOO = 29
18 Player ROGER SCHNEIDER = 29
19 Player ANTHONY BRUMBY = 29
20 Player R F = 29

Hopefully they will all register at and play the daily quiz of the PL/SQL Challenge as well. They clearly have lots of promise! And if you are not yet playing the daily quiz of the PL/SQL Challenge, well please do join the other 1400 developers who play almost every day, learning more about PL/SQL and winning weekly and monthly prizes.

Finally we were lucky enough to have Tom Kyte in attendance at the live quiz. He was kindly pointed out two subtle problems with the quiz, so I cleaned those up for the other quizzes this week. One point will also result in a minor change in our assumptions.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Fall 2010 Webinar Series Sponsored by Quest Software

I will be conducting a third series of webcasts for Quest Software that will put you on the fast track to maximizing your understanding and use of Oracle PL/SQL. Here are lots of details and links for registration. I hope to "see" you there!

Session 1: Programming with Collections
Monday, September 27, 2010 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern ($200.00 US

Collections (array-like structures in PL/SQL) are critical data structures that are used in some of the most important features of PL/SQL. Every PL/SQL developer should have a deep familiarity with collections and the wide range of features that Oracle has implemented for them over the years. This session introduces collections and quickly moves on to detailed explanations of collection methods, how to leverage string indexing in associative arrays, multi-level collections, set-level operations on nested tables and more. The session will run for approximately two hours. 

Session 2: Say Goodbye to Hard-Coding in PL/SQL
Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern ($200.00 US

Everyone knows that hard-coding is a bad idea. Too many developers, however, only think in terms of literal values when they think of hard-coding. There are, unfortunately, many ways that hard-coding manifests itself in our programs. This webinar offers a comprehensive look at all the types of hard-coding that can appear in your programs, from literals to explicit declarations to exposed formulas, and offers specific techniques to get rid of the hard-coding. The result is code that is much easier to read and to maintain. The session will last approximately two hours.

Session 3: Dynamic SQL in Oracle PL/SQL
Wednesday, October 20, 2010 at 2:00 p.m. Eastern ($200.00 US

Dynamic SQL (construction, parsing and execution of SQL statements and PL/SQL blocks at runtime) has become a common and critical element of most modern applications. PL/SQL offers two distinct methods for dynamic SQL: native dynamic SQL  (NDS) and DBMS_SQL. This webinar focuses primarily on the capabilities of native dynamic SQL: how to use EXECUTE IMMEDIATE to execute dynamic query, DML, and DDL statements. We will also go beyond the basics and delve into when to use DBMS_SQL (method 4 dynamic SQL), and new Oracle Database 11g features for dynamic SQL (most importantly, interoperability between DBMS_SQL and NDS.  The session will last approximately two hours.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Update: Eli as Programmer

Almost three weeks ago, my son Eli started working for me as an APEX programmer - with absolutely no background in software. He'd focused mainly on being a musician for the last five+ years (guitar, songwriting, etc.). So: minimal mathematics education; no knowledge of SQL or PL/SQL; no experience with HTML, Javascript....what were we getting ourselves into?

I am very pleased to report that Eli has made rapid progress. He is now building basic APEX applications, writing queries and other SQL statements, making changes to the PL/SQL Challenge application (very simple changes for now!), learning HTML.

He whips through APEX design pages so quickly, I start to get dizzy trying to follow him. It looks like this is going to work out very, very well.

Eli told me that while he hadn't written software, he had lots of experience with creating and manipulating music in his head. We agreed that this would likely help with programming and I would say that this is now well established. While Eli had not experience with SQL syntax, his brain seems to be very nicely trained to work with a large number and highly complex abstractions. So the switch from music to logic/code seems to be a smooth one.

In addition, while Eli is not video game fanatic, he has certainly spent time on various game consoles from a relatively early age. I think back to a 10 year old Eli playing a game that involved choosing and arming characters for a quest, solving puzzles on the screen, quickly paging through menus and options....and then I look at him "playing with" the APEX interface.

I realize that for a person who has trained his or her brain to work with a rich UI found in video games, in which most of your activity is point-and-click rather than typing, an environment like APEX is "child's play" - a relatively crude and simplified interface.

So I now declare myself happy that Eli played video games, to prepare himself for the "real world."

Eli, it has been a real pleasure to work with you and I look forward to lots more of it in the future!

Friday, July 23, 2010

"Liberal media" what a laugh!

I have always found it both amusing and alarming to hear the right wing of this country blast the mainstream media for its liberal bias. What a joke. Sure, lots of journalists might be left-leaning or centrist. But the content and direction of the media is determined by its owners, and what this means (among other things) is that the quality and quantity of critiques of corporate mis-behavior are minimized.

Also, the coverage of non-right wing activity in this country is pitiful and most clearly demonstrates how the media is biased towards the right.

Case in point: the tea party movement holds a meeting of several hundred people, and the national media are all over it, live interviews, commentary, blah blah blah. 

Compare that to the scene in Detroit in late June, when the US Social Forum held a convention to discuss and plan ways to increase the quantity and quality of justice and equality in this great nation of ours. Over 18,000 progressives, lefists, whatever label you want to apply to them, gathered together for five days.

18,000 people gathered to talk politics, to challenge the tea party ideas, press Obama and Congress to do more. That's pretty amazing, isn't it? Certainly worthy of some basic, minimal media coverage on every mainstream outlet. 

So who from the major media were present? Venezuela's TeleSur and Al Jazeera English.

That's just pitiful, and an incredible disservice to the millions of people in this country who are angry at the status quo and are looking for alternatives. 

How can you call the media "liberal" when it so clearly promotes and highlights right-wingers while ignoring those on the left?

Monday, July 19, 2010

My Son, Eli, Takes on APEX

My youngest son, Eli (23), has spent the last several years honing his skills as a guitarist and composer. He's very talented, but it's hard to make a living as a musician, especially in the current economy.

Much to my delight, Eli has decided that he would like to try his hand at being a software developer. He has a basic foundation of mathematics, but no programming experience. He has, on the other hand, well-developed powers of abstraction, used to conceptualize and organize music and songs. He is excited about diving into the world of software.

I've decided to have him learn Oracle fundamentals and APEX 4, as the quickest path to making him productive. I have lots of work to be done in APEX for my various projects.

I will also take this opportunity to deepen my familiarity with APEX; it certainly makes sense given that PL/SQL is the foundation technology. I've just been hard-pressed to date to make time for learning a new technology. So we will learn together.

Having said that, it will be very helpful for Eli to have some mentors in the APEX world, someone who knows the product well and would be willing and able to provide some advice.

So if anyone reading this knows APEX well (I doubt he will be utilizing APEX 4 features for quite a while) and would be willing and able to answer the occasional question from Eli, please send me a note at I would be most grateful, as would Eli.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A little bit of corporate sanity and hope

I read an article in the NY Times today regarding an apparel factory in the Dominican Republic that, according to the Times, "is a high-minded experiment, a response to appeals from myriad university officials and student activists that the garment industry stop using poverty-wage sweatshops. It has 120 employees and is owned by Knights Apparel, a privately held company based in Spartanburg, S.C., that is the leading supplier of college-logo apparel to American universities, according to the Collegiate Licensin." 

There have been efforts in the past to pay a "living wage" to workers, but it usually led to high costs to the consumer and very limited distribution. In this case, Knights Apparel has a market-leading position and support from many universities. This could really work, and lead the way for future, similar initiatives.

I will, from this moment forward, be on the lookout for Knights Apparel products and purchase them, instead of the products of their competitors, such as Nike. I hope you will consider doing the same.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The moratorium on deepwater drilling and human arrogance

I am stunned at the pressure mounted by Gulf Coast-area politicians and businesspeople on the Obama Administration to allow resumption of deepwater drilling.

Without a doubt, this moratorium has clear and profound impacts, in terms of loss of jobs and revenue and more. So I can understand the immediate reaction to be one of "The BP disaster is a once-in-a-lifetime event! Drilling is overwhelmingly safe! Let us get back to it!"

What is missing from such a response is an understanding of the concept of unacceptable risk.

Sure, it would be really nice to avoid the financial impact of the moratorium. Sure, it is very, very unlikely that another disaster will occur anytime soon. But that's just statistics. Then there is the real world, in which corporate negligence and corner-cutting, plus the unpredictability of weather and ocean, can clearly lead to outcomes whose impact could be catastrophic.

I would feel far better about lifting the moratorium if the oil companies openly acknowledged that they have spotty maintenance histories, that BP clearly took shortcuts to improve profitability. I would feel like we have learned from this disaster if the government launched a thorough investigation of all deepwater rigs, examining all company records and the rigs themselves, verified that we don't have any other disasters waiting to happen.

In other words, we need to make as sure as possible that this entire industry isn't a disaster waiting to happen. After 8 years of Bush and "hands off" regulation, we should have no reason at all to think that these companies and their equipment can be trusted.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Big day for me - and at least a few PL/SQL developers

Today (in one hour in fact, 10 AM Chicago time), 48 developers will compete in the first-ever PL/SQL Challenge quarterly championship, with a grand prize of US$1000, second prize of US$500 and third prize of an ebook collection of all O'Reilly Media Oracle books.

It has been a long three months from the launch of the PL/SQL Challenge on 8 April. I have learned so much from the many developers who have played - and critiqued - my quizzes. I have been very pleased with the response of so many developers to the Challenge: enthusiasm, increased interest in the PL/SQL language, eagerness to compete...

Hopefully all will go well and smoothly. OK, back to preparations....

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

PL/SQL Challenge taking off - 1000+ daily players

The PL/SQL Challenge is rapidly gaining momentum. We are in our second 1000+ player day (I think we will break 1200), and the fourth 900+ player day in a row. I am very excited. I have this feeling that the PL/SQL Challenge will soon be a key gathering site for PL/SQL developers, and the only way for them to demonstrate through public rankings their expertise in the language.

Many players have shared with me  their enthusiasm for the daily quiz, and how much they are learning  about PL/SQL from the quizzes.

Who knows? Perhaps references to PL/SQL Challenge rankings will start to appear in resumes!

We will be holding our first quarterly championship next week, awarding the US$1000 and US$500 prizes for the first time since we started the Challenge in April 2010.

If you haven't yet started playing the daily quiz, now is a great time to start. It's only the fourth day into a new quarter, so you can certainly still rank up near the top and qualify for the next quarterly championship if you start playing today.

Just visit, register or login, and take the quiz. It's free and easy!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Meant to be?

Don't get me wrong (or get me as wrong as you'd like), I am very happy that the US won their latest World Cup game, and will advance to second stage. And I am very happy for Landon Donovan, who scored the winning goal. I like the game of football (soccer) very much, used to play and then referee kids' games.

But I found Donovan's statement about the victory and its meaning a bit hard to take. He said (according to the Chicago Tribune): "It makes me believe in good in the world and if you try to do things the right way, it' good to see it get rewarded."

This idea that something was "meant to be" or a "reward" for previous good behavior is of course very widespread. And I can see how this belief can help people get through hard times. I don't believe the same thing; at least, I suppose I am "theoretically" open to the possibility that in fact there is some grand design that invests meaning and intent in things that happen.These days, though, I mostly hold to the viewpoint that "stuff just happens" and the only meaning events and outcomes have is the meaning we inject into it.

Having said that, OK, you believe what you believe, I believe what I believe. But, c'mon, Landon - you seem to be implying that all those other soccer players who are losing have not done things "the right way" and whose loss is a "good in the world." 

And that, dear reader, is really hard to believe.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Can BP "speed it up"?

I just caught this headline at Yahoo:

Coast Guard to BP: Speed it up, stop the spill (AP)

"Crude oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill washes ashore in Orange Beach, Ala., Saturday, June 12, 2010. Large amounts of the oil battered the Alabama coast, leaving deposits of the slick mess some 4-6 inches thick on the beach in some parts. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)AP - The Coast Guard has demanded that BP step up its efforts to contain the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico by the end of the weekend, telling the British oil giant that its slow pace in stopping the spill is becoming increasingly alarming as the disaster fouled the coastline in ugly new ways Saturday."

And I find myself wondering: could it really be possible that BP is not expending all possible effort and expense, that they are not working as hard and as smart as they can to fix the problem?

They've certainly been trying some massive, difficult things - and failing.

I tend to see things this way: we've reached a dangerous and awkward point in our evolution and development as a species. We have at our disposal incredible technical skills, allowing us to do all sorts of amazing things. But we haven't yet developed a sufficiently sophisticated moral framework in which to apply our awesome skills.

As a result, we now find ourselves doing things to ourselves and our world that are beyond our capabilities to fix.

Well, in that case, I hope that BP has in fact been slacking all this time and now they will work harder and fix the problem. Yeah, right.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

New presentation available for download: Golden Rules for Developers

I presented for the first time ever "Golden Rules for Developers" at the NYOUG general meeting on June 9, 2010.

Click here to download the presentation in PDF form.

And here's the description of the presentation:

We all want to write better code: fewer bugs, faster algorithms, readable blocks. Yet again and again our best intentions are thwarted by...all sorts of people and things: ourselves, our managers, our users, crazy deadlines, lack of tools, and more. We have, unfortunately, control over only so much of our professional lives. We generally can't do much about our managers or our users. We usually can't change the deadlines. So we have to look at what each of us can do individually to move to the next level of software developer. This session offers a set of "golden rules" that we all can agree on and will definitely improve our code - and then offers some practical advice to help you follow them.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

What other nation besides Israel....

  • Could drop a bunch of highly trained, elite commandos onto a boat carrying humanitarian supplies and hundreds of people who they know are very angry at the Government of Israel, and then complain when those commandos are actually attacked?
  • Could claim that it was "self defense" when these commandos kill and injure dozens - on a boat they boarded in international waters?
  • Would so carelessly toss away their relationship with the only majority-Muslim nation in the world willing to be some kind of friend to Israel?
  • Would embroil its key (perhaps all too soon, only) ally, the United States, in yet another crisis, at a time when the U.S. is flailing about with a massive, uncontrolled oil spill, a war in Afghanistan, a devastated economy? [hey, maybe that's precisely why they did it now!]
  • Could insist that they can carry out their own "impartial" investigation into this debacle and, yes, massacre?
Imagine if the "tables were turned".

Imagine a boatload of Jews heading to the Promised Land, with nothing but food, cement, medical supplies and some metal bars on board the ship. Then the ship is boarded by heavily armed and well trained commandos. Do the Jews on board simply give up? No! They have learned their lesson. They will fight back valiantly, with few weapons, but a strong sense of righteousness. Miraculously, the commandos are forced on the defensive, and then they unleash deadly weapons fire on the ship passengers, killing and wounding dozens. And the Jews or more specifically in later versions of these stories, "Israelis" (meaning: Israeli Jews) are heroes.

This is precisely the kind of story told over and over again (at least in Jewish families like mine and to members of synagogues), from the founding of the State of Israel: courageous, outgunned Jews performing miraculous, virtuous acts as they stand up for their ideals and those among them who are unable to defend themselves.

The parallels and contradictions between those "Jews as victims-no-longer" stories and the events of the last few days are striking and disturbing. And of course Israel cannot be seen as the persecutor in such tales - Israel is always on the side of good and right, it never does anything wrong. It only defends itself. Yeah, right. Save it for...American Jews.

The Government of Israel complains about how they are singled out for criticism, how they face "existential" challenges from states like Iran. It seems more and more clear, quite sadly, though, that the worst enemy faced by Israel today is its own militarized, ultra-right government, its fundamentalist, extremist political organizations (currently in control of the government) - and the American Jews who believe Israel can do no wrong, and will provide political and financial cover for every red line the GofI crosses.

Soon, Israel will be widely regarded as a true rogue state - precisely because the Government of Israel insists on taking rogue actions.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A blog for the PL/SQL Challenge

We have created a new blog (just what the world needed?) specifically for the PL/SQL Challenge.

The developers playing the daily quiz are very engaged, to say the least, and they often have lots to say about the questions and answers. When a player has an objection to a quiz, we will now publish an entry about it, so that everyone can comment and read the threads.

In fact, Finn published some very interesting results from his research into UTL_FILE and its handling of newline characters. I encourage you take a look.

I also wanted a soapbox from which I could talk about why I created the PL/SQL Challenge and where I plan to take it into the future.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Interesting keynote speaker for ODTUG

I just received a note "pre-announcing" the ODTUG Kaleidoscope 2010 keynote. Not someone from Oracle, not someone deep into the technology itself, like me. No, instead, a person who is paying attention to how the Internet and computing in general can have a profound (and not necessarily positive) impact on our lives. Check it out - and register for the conference! Here's a chunk from the announcement:

"The Oracle Development Tools User Group (ODTUG) is pleased to announce that Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Research Center s Internet & American Life Project, will deliver the Keynote Address at ODTUG Kaleidoscope 2010 on Monday, June 28. The Pew Internet & American Life Project is a non-profit, non-partisan "fact tank" that studies the social impact of the Internet. The Project has issued more than 200 reports based on its surveys that examine online activities and the Internet's role of the Internet in our lives.

"Lee is a co-author of Up for Grabs, Hopes and Fears, and Ubiquity, Mobility, Security, a series of books about the future of the Internet, published by Cambria Press and based on Project surveys.  He is also co-authoring a book for MIT Press about the social impact of technology, with sociologist Barry Wellman, which will be published in late 2010. The working title is Networked: The New Social Network Operating System. Click here for more information on Lee Rainie and the prestigious Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project.

"This very timely Keynote Address is just one more reason for attending ODTUG Kaleidoscope 2010, June 27- July 1 at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel in Washington, D.C. Do not delay in Registering. Also, the hotel is filling up quickly, so make your overnight reservations as soon as possible. The cut-off for the conference rate is June 9. We cannot guarantee that the conference rate will be available after that date."

PL/SQL Challenge not useful if you're not on Oracle11g?

I just received the following email from a person who tried out the PL/SQL Challenge:

"I don't have 11g installed on my home computers, and my workplace hasn't upgraded to it (not until 2011). So not having had a chance to use it or any reason to study the documentation, I'm not going to answer any 11g questions. I'd like to recommend the PL/SQL Challenge to people where I work. My principal professional focus, however, is improving the general SQL and programming (PL/SQL) skills of developers, rather than improving folks understanding of the esoterica of PL/SQL. While I personally do appreciate the PL/SQL challenge (especially in regards to the frustrating quirks of the language), I cannot at this time recommend it for a general audience in the industry I work (Financial Services)."

I found this reaction fascinating on several levels and sent the developer this reply:

I will remove your user account from the PL/SQL Challenge, but please read my response below first and then confirm that you want nothing further to do with it.

I can certainly understand your frustration at being confronted with an 11g question, which generally would seem to be completely irrelevant to what you are doing.

First, allow me to point out that the vast majority of our questions are based on a 10.2 platform; it would surely be hasty to reject the Challenge as a whole because of this question's 11g dependency.

Second, oddly enough, this question is a great example of why the PL/SQL Challenge could be so important for developers who are precisely in your position: not yet on 11g, but surely you know it is coming your way (and for your industry).

The function result cache is an incredibly powerful and important 11g feature; it is definitely not "esoterica."
In fact (1), it is so powerful and important that once you learn about it, it should change the way you write your applications right now, in order to be prepared to take smooth and rapid advantage of it when you upgrade.

In fact (2), I have been presenting for over a year now a presentation titled " Why you should care about Oracle 11g now" (available here) to drive home precisely this point.

Bottom line: I hope you will reconsider, continue playing and encourage others to do so.

And for everyone else: the Challenge is now being played regularly by over 700 developers each day. I hope that you will give it a try yourself. You could learn an awful lot about PL/SQL and you could win some excellent prizes!

Friday, May 07, 2010

PL/SQL Challenge Hits 800 Players!

On Thursday, Oracle sent out its Database Application Developer Newsletter and included this paragraph:

[]Take the PL/SQL Challenge
Oracle ACE Director Steven Feuerstein has started up a new contest for PL/SQL Developers: the PL/SQL Challenge. The Challenge is free and simple: you play the quiz each weekday, exercising your knowledge of the language. Every three months, the top-ranking players compete in a quarterly championship to award first, second and third prizes. But that's not all: Every month, Steven will raffle off other prizes to anyone who played the quiz that month. So visit the PL/SQL Challenge and start playing. You've got nothing to lose and lots to gain!

Well....that worked out very nicely. Over 300 people registered at the PL/SQL Challenge and today we broke through the 800 player "barrier". Very exciting!

Thanks, Oracle!

Come Monday, players will also see many enhancements to the website, including improved rankings information and the ability to invite friends to play the PL/SQL Challenge

If you are a PL/SQL developer and you are not yet playing the PL/SQL Challenge, pay us a visit and check it out. You will have fun and could win some excellent prizes. Here's what a few people have recently said about the PL/SQL Challenge:

"I love the PL/SQL Challenge. It is getting our team talking about PL/SQL on a daily basis."

"I wait eagerly every morning for the next question. It's become a part of my warm-up ritual at work, in addition to making tea."

Monday, May 03, 2010

Brian Daniels Graduates from Averett University

I have just come back from a wonderful weekend in Danville, Virginia, home of Averett University. My wife, Veva, organized a family reunion/graduation celebration there, because our nephew, Brian Daniels, graduated from Averett on Saturday with a Bachelors of Science. Congratulations, Brian!

Brian is the first member of his family to attend, much less, graduate, from college.

He made this possible through dedication, discipline, hard work (hard, hard work) and a quiet strength that kept him going through many obstacles. And, of course, the unswerving support of his family.

Brian attended Averett on a football scholarship and I hope to soon announce the next step in his incredible journey regarding Brian and the game (or should we say "business") of football.

After the graduation ceremony, we held a party for Brian at Mary's Diner that was very tasty, exciting and moving. Many friends and relatives spoke of their pride in his accomplishments, and the traits that have made him both so successful and so loved.

Brian is a born leader and a true friend and role model to many. We all look forward to his future accomplishments.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Shortcut to expertise?

I received this request today:

"I want to learn PL/SQL but doubt I can; I want to understand,write and fix other's code, but where do I begin? I do not like sticking to code for hours; my head hurts. But I would like to go from complete ignorance to be like you!"

That set back in my Swopper chair for a moment. He wants to go from complete ignorance to being "just like Steven" without sticking his head deep inside code for hours.


Well, first of all, to anyone wanting to learn PL/SQL: do not doubt yourself! You can do it. PL/SQL is a relatively easy language to learn, especially compared to Java.

Second, I don't think are a whole lot of shortcuts you can take. That is, if you want to be an expert programmer, you will stick your head into code for hours. But:

1. Take lots of breaks! You don't have to get headaches.

2. Certainly learning from obsessive people like me can accelerate you along that learning curve to expertise.

In fact, you may want to consider attending one (or more) of my Fast Track PL/SQL webinars, sponsored by Quest. There is one more this month, and then we will likely plan another series soon.

Beyond that, I offer the following advice to "newbies" and others seeking assistance on PL/SQL: - Oracle documentation available online - OTN PL/SQL information - links to articles on OTN - detailed explorations into various PL/SQL topics by Adrian Billington - the PL/SQL forum at Oracle - the amazing Ask Tom column

In addition, there are a number of "beginner books", including:
Learning Oracle PL/SQL (I am a co-author on this one)
Oracle PL/SQL for Dummies

Finally, I also encourage you to play the PL/SQL Challenge ( ) - a daily PL/SQL quiz with cash and other prizes!